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Supreme Court upholds Monsanto settlement

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The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has upheld a multi-million dollar settlement between Monsanto and residents of Nitro for long-term exposure to dioxin.

The high court found "no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error" in the 386-page Putnam County Circuit Court order to warrant overturning the settlement.

That deal was struck after "more than seven years of litigation, over fifty hearings, the exchange of over one million pages of discovery, over sixty expert witness depositions, over ninety fact witness depositions [and] the issuance of more than two-hundred orders," the justices noted in their 14-page memorandum.

It covered both medical monitoring and property claims resulting from years of exposure to the dioxins, requiring Monsanto to pay up to $84 million for health screenings for class members plus another $9 million to rid homes of contamination.

"We see no abuse of discretion in the circuit court's decision," the justices wrote. "Moreover, we fail to see how the hypothetical and speculative restriction imposed on petitioners by these agreements renders the settlement unfair, inadequate, or unreasonable."

The class lawsuit, filed in 2004, claimed residents and workers had been exposed to the dioxins, a byproduct of herbicides manufactured at Monsanto's chemical plant in Nitro, over a 21-year period beginning in 1948. The toxin was released into the air when waste material at the plant was burned.

The court approved the settlement in January, and the following month the appeal was filed.

Chief Justice Brent D. Benjamin dissented.